Holiday Sparkling Wine Series - Volume 1

  • Questions, Questions, Questions.
  • If only I had a bottle of Champagne for every time, I was asked the question “When Is Valli producing a Champagne?”. Easy answer: Never, as we aren’t in Champagne.
  • So to the next more and more valid question, “When is Valli going to produce a sparkling wine?”. I would also like a bottle of sparkling wine for every time I heard that one. The last person who asked (just yesterday in fact) was a wine reviewer. Her exact question was “Why don’t you make a sparkling wine?” My answer: “It’s a story that needs a little more time than we have at the moment. I‘ll put it on paper and it can also serve as the Christmas blog Hollis has been asking for”.
  • A long time ago, in a winery far, far away (1981 in Napa Valley to be exact), after a very successful first vintage in 1980, the winery owner agreed to let me produce a sparkling wine, though with some provisions. It was to be an experimental rather than a large commercial production and had very strict budget limitations.
  • All easy. The biggest expenses to overcome were grapes and bottles. The grapes used were $200/ton Chenin Blanc not $1000/ton Chardonnay and the glass was left over, (though in hindsight more likely reject bottles from one of the valley's larger sparkling producers) and were basically free.
  • All went well, juice successfully fermented then bottled with a tirage sugar addition. The only thing left to do was find a storage space in a typical undersized Napa Valley winery. I was allowed the mezzanine above the laboratory which was considered enough out of the way that it could be stored and forgotten about for a while. Yay! Job done.
  • The wine however, had other ideas. It did not want to be forgotten. After about two weeks, it announced itself: First to the ears, with a series of loud explosions, followed by the sound of small pieces of glass landing on the concrete floor being converted into many more even smaller pieces. The next announcement was to our noses: all we could smell was wine, fresh fruity wine. It was just like being in the middle of vintage all over again. (Although it was only a matter of time before that quite attractive aroma was replaced by one of vinegar growing stronger by the day.) And just in case we didn’t believe those two senses, we were given visual confirmation of what we imagined was happening above:
  • Liquid was running down the walls,
  • liquid was dripping through light fixtures,
  • liquid was dribbling from electrical sockets,
  • liquid was in all the places liquid should not be.
  • It’s a picture that has stayed in the memory, as have the winery owner’s very loud threatening words “TAYLOR!!!! GET UPSTAIRS AND CLEAN UP YOUR &;%$#@ MESS!” I knew better, I should not have gone, but orders were orders. It was a bit like The Charge of the Light Brigade “Into the Valley of Death rode the 600…., though instead it was “Up to the Mezzanine He Went Alone….” And that of which the result wasn’t too dissimilar. A life-threatening situation! The unexploded bottles started exploding all around once movement and the clean-up process began!
  • The outcome could have been a lot worse, I escaped alive! Though I still have a couple of good scars from flying glass as a reminder. Despite the wounds healing long ago, it was the psychological scaring that remained so long. Though I do believe I am finally over that.
  • Two theories emerged as to why this happened. One was mine, that the glass was inferior (after all we did get it for almost nothing). The other theory, the one everyone else subscribed to is that I made a wrong calculation and added way too much sugar and the pressure built up during fermentation...pressure enough to explode metal beer kegs, let alone glass bottles.
  • With psychological scars finally healed I am ready to make bubbles again. However as there is a faint possibility that the theory of all the others as to why those bottles exploded could be correct, I should probably enlist the help of a much more experienced sparkling producer. Valli has the grapes, the perfect grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Waitaki Valley. To my knowledge, its cool climate and Limestone soils are as close to conditions in Champagne as you will find anywhere in the world. The only thing we need is a little guidance, so if you were wondering what to give me for Christmas, and you have a qualified friend, please send them my way: VALLI is accepting resumes to help make what is hopefully the best sparkling wine this country is capable of.
  • In the meantime If there ever is a time for Champagne, bubbles, Sparkling wine it is now!
  • Merry Christmas,
  • Grant